Sunday, February 10, 2013

What is Good SEO?

A web technology colleague of mine, who works at a "brand strategy and communications agency" on the east coast, asked me today how I was doing.

When I spoke, among other things, of my doing SEO for various companies, he expressed his misunderstanding of the field.


But we do not do SEO -- it's such a crazy thing. And, unlike the way it used to be, doing it wrong really messes everything up -- gets you banned and can ruin your company for good.

And people need help in their sophistication, too. People are using many blunt instruments, that's for sure.


SEO is Search Engine Optimization, helping a website comply with search engine rules while also attracting more customers to the website.

My friend is speaking of the fake SEO that con artists try to sell to companies, the black hat tricks that Google catches onto and then penalizes. It's not true that all SEO work is of that type.

When he says "unlike the way it used to be", he is referring to how, in days gone by, any methods could be used to dishonestly boost a website's ranking in search results, pushing it higher than it deserved to be. There were little maneuvers that could trick search engines, but the resulting websites tended to be of very poor quality for human site visitors.

In the early days of internet search, Google did not have spam warnings and best practice guidelines in effect, nor the algorithms that could detect the various deceptive ploys that are now categorized as black hat SEO.

An example that many people are familiar with is "keyword stuffing": using a key words (like "coffee", "French press", "cafe", and "espresso" on a web page for a coffee shop, over and over again, unnaturally, relentlessly, in a silly attempt to convince a search engine that the page content is relevant to that keyword. Techniques like that are stupid and they backfire.

To say that all SEO is bad or "crazy" is to not understand the necessity of correctly optimizing a website. The goal of SEO is to attract qualified customer traffic and take advantage of relevant keywords for meta tags and content, to accurately and honestly convey to search engines the true value of the website for human users.

Good SEO can be compared to good grooming, making your website wear a suit and tie, to be more presentable and effective. Bad SEO is like making a website wear a costume disguise and pretend to be better than it really is.

He's right about SEO when he says "doing it wrong can really mess everything up", but that is also a danger of improperly installed electrical wiring. The point is to know how to do it right, not go the extreme of avoiding it all together, in a "we don't do SEO" attitude.

Whether you realize it or not, just designing a website means you are "doing SEO" to a large degree, as much of SEO resides in coding and content. All social media posts are also a part of SEO, especially when you post links to your website on blogs and social networks.

SEO basically means anything you do that results in driving qualified customer traffic to a website. That includes press releases, news updates, videos, podcasts, directory listings, customized landing pages, Facebook ads, Google AdWords campaigns, blog post promotions, status updates, Twitter tweets, even offline activities like seminars, interviews, community events, and lecture presentations.

I must step in and say that "branding" has as bad a reputation as "SEO" when it comes to the wiles of hucksters and charlatans, just as "sales" and "marketing" are also tarnished in many people's minds by bad practice and unethical techniques.

The SEO that I am engaged in is based strictly on Google Webmaster guidelines.

By not paying attention to Google guidelines, or defying them, that's how a website gets in trouble. Our goal to make sure there is never any Google trouble.

When I say SEO, I mean "compliance with Google web design suggestions and algorithm updates" -- which basically comes down to making a website of value to human users. Not chasing arcane gimmicks that try to take advantage of algorithm loopholes and blindspots. That's your black hat SEO.

Google-compliant SEO encompasses keyword-savvy web page title tags and descriptions, image alt attributes, keyword performance, conversion tracking, and landing page optimization -- to ensure maximum results from sales pages.

For a discussion of Google savvy web coding and content, I recommend the books "Marketing in the Age of Google" by Vanessa Fox, "Get to the Top on Google" by David Viney, "The Art of SEO by Eric Enge, et al, and "Landing Page Optimization" by Tim Ash.

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